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Mr. Big Shot

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On October 1, from this spot two houses east of the mansion, Russell hopped onto a police speedboat that set off for a cove of the Tarpon River a few hundred yards south. There, he and Morrow conferred via walkie-talkie. "We'll make entry in 30 seconds," Morrow said, his team ready to approach the Hirschfeld residence from the front.

"Twenty-nine, 28, 27, 26," counted Morrow as the boat cruised across the river. It pulled up to the dock just as a fleet of Crown Vics blockaded the driveway and street in front of the home.

It was just before 3:30 in the afternoon. Richard and Loretta Hirschfeld chatted inside a first-floor office as Richard sat at a computer and checked his e-mail. Leaning against a wall, Loretta heard an alarm go off. Figuring the wind had blown open a door on the back deck, she was prepared to ignore it when another door alarm sounded.

"Gee, that's weird," Loretta thought. She started to walk out of the office into the front foyer, where through the window she noticed four FBI cars in the driveway.

"I mean, they didn't say FBI on 'em," she recounts in her Virginia accent. "But one of the guys stood up out of the car, and he had FBI across his shirt."

Loretta started down the hall toward the rear of the house. Five large glass doors opened onto an expansive patio with a sleekly modern swimming pool and a drop-off to the dock and river beyond.

Just then, Paul Russell was entering the house. The alarms she'd heard had sounded when he pushed against one locked door and then strolled through the next, quite unlocked, one.

"She was a little in awe," Russell says, "seeing someone as ugly as me coming in her back door."

Russell, with bug-eyed safety goggles, full duty belt, and Kevlar vest with POLICE printed in yellow letters across it, was an unwelcome sight in the Hirschfeld's living room, a place so vast he'd later tell a reporter it was big enough for him and his men to play a game of touch football in.

"The ceilings go up to the roof," he says, pointing at the house. "It looks like the Sistine Chapel. I mean, look at this money!"

Loretta started to head back down the hallway. An agent stopped her and made her sit on the staircase leading to the second floor. "Watch her," Russell ordered.

"Is there anyone else in the house with you?" he demanded.

"My husband," Russell says she answered. "And she points right to where he was -- gave him right up."

Russell raced down the hall and found Hirschfeld inside a huge walk-in closet, where office files and supplies were kept. "I said his name," the FBI man remembers, "and I grabbed him. Scared the shit out of the little fucker."

The five-foot-seven, 160-pound Hirschfeld was dwarfed by the six-foot, 200-pound-plus agent. Russell wasn't impressed. Nor was he pleased. "I was scared," Russell admits, because as the lawyer put one hand through a pair of handcuffs, he quickly stuck the other in his pants pocket.

"Against my direct orders," Russell says. "Everybody in the world knows you don't put your hand in your pocket when you're being arrested. So I grabbed him by the neck and said, 'If you do that again, you're gonna get shot. '"

To his surprise, Hirschfeld did it again. When that happened, Russell recounts almost apologetically, "I handcuffed him in, uh, an aggressive manner."

"Very roughly," Loretta corroborates.

It was a Friday afternoon. Loretta's middle son was getting married the following weekend, an event the couple was eagerly anticipating. As Hirschfeld was marched out the front door, he turned around and said to his wife, "Don't let this affect the wedding."

What did he have in this pocket? A gun? A knife? A cell phone to flag down his helicopter?

All Hirschfeld carried were two friends who'd seen him through a near-decade of successful sub-rosa solitude: a wad of cash and an international calling card.


Hirschfeld held one last card in his depleted deck. After his arrest, Business Wire reported that in 2003, Hirschfeld's telecommunications company, Global Telesat, helped pioneer revolutionary new eavesdropping technology. The company, with Hirschfeld's concurrence, had supplied equipment to the Pentagon, which used it to find and capture Saddam Hussein. Hirschfeld appealed to President Bush for clemency, to no avail.

Cooter says he had no idea Hirschfeld was in Florida until his arrest. "Frankly, I think there's a reason for that. I would have been very critical with Richard about any decision to live in Lauderdale. I would have found that reckless. Jeez, he bought himself a $4 million mansion and lived in an ostentatious way -- I mean, you can't thumb your nose at these people."

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton

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